Saturday, February 16, 2008

Review of The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence by Alison Hawthorne Deming

The Monarchs: A Poem SequenceAlthough the world of poetry certainly has more than its share of nature-praising verse, Alison Hawthorne Deming has thrown another log on the fire with her poetry sequence The Monarchs. A native of Connecticut who now lives in Arizona, she views the wild nature of the Southwest with the wisdom and appreciation of a former New England city liver.

So what does Deming offer as one more in a sea of nature lovers? Undoubtedly, one thing is what Scott Slovic calls Deming's "abiding fascination with natural science." The colorful imagery and unique metaphors of Deming's semi-scientific verse paint a more stirring picture than any emotional commentary could. In Writing the Sacred into the Real, Deming says, "What science-bashers fail to appreciate is that scientists, in their unflagging attraction to the unknown, love what they don't know. It guides and motivates their work; it keeps them up late at night; and it makes that work poetic."

Deming herself studies the human race in a similar way, approaching with compassion its mistakes and absurdities. While, on the one hand, the activities of people and the creatures of the natural world mirror one another, Deming's Nature sometimes chances by as a separate entity, transcending human struggles; like the Monarchs flying over the fearful townspeople in poem 4, Nature goes diligently about its business, oblivious to both our fear and fascination. A refreshing honesty underlies Deming's poetry: she is unwilling to glorify the elements of humanity that are popularly glorified, such as common perceptions of love, which she boldly declares a result of "misunderstandings" in poem 16.

Deming is not a cynic however. While she periodically equates love with untruth, she acknowledges in poem 23 that "to love is all there is / to separate us from tyrants, from the dark." Moreover, her sporadic references to dreaming make a gracious allowance for human frailty. From the would-be rapist in poem 2 to the child in poem 8 trying to dig to China, the human race engages in moments of absurd dreaming. Our dreams make us as precious or pitiable as the Monarch babies of poem 9 that "awake in a little park / surrounded by ruined cities, / not a doubt in their minuscule / minds that blooming fields await them."

The Monarchs is a contemplative study of the human race and the natural world of which it is both apart and separate. Through thought provoking insights and colorful imagery, readers of this volume will agree that Deming has met her own challenge to "make a thing out of this chaos, a thing / that will last."

No comments: